Whenever the issue of vehicular privacy comes up, the discussion almost immediately pivots to individuals either defending or condemning the status quo. But this often happens without either side of the argument having a firm understanding of how much information is actually being obtained inside today’s automobiles.
While we’ve covered the topic frequently, articles have typically focused on specific issues rather than overall scope. But things are different this time, with the Mozilla Foundation recently issuing a study trying to assess just how far-reaching the automotive industry’s quest for data has become.
Hyundai Motor Group – which includes Hyundai, Kia, and Genesis – has announced a comprehensive plan for its products from 2025 onward with the key components being perpetual connectivity, subscriptions, and software-defined automobiles. It sounds benign but actually represents a major shift in the way the company operates by calling for widespread platform standardization and leaning into novel revenue streams reliant on vehicles existing on its corporate network.
BMW and Mercedes-Benz are dumping ShareNow — their jointly managed car-sharing businesses — and Stellantis will reportedly become the recipient. Effectively a merger of BMW’s DriveNow and Mercedes’ (technically Daimler AG’s) slurry of similar services that were rolled into car2go, ShareNow’s individual components have spent the last decade trying to figure out which markets would embrace app-based, roadside rentals charging by the minute and which would reject it.
Back when everyone still bought into the hype surrounding self-driving cars, automakers were releasing concept vehicles framed as a “lounge on wheels.” The theory was that once autonomous vehicles hit the mainstream, companies would begin dropping futuristic models with swanky interiors because drivers would no longer be responsible for piloting the car for the duration of its journey. However, the public eventually learned that autonomous driving technologies had failed to progress as promised and would likely come with a host of restrictions plenty of drivers wouldn’t be interested in once the wrinkles had been ironed out.
But there are a whole host of markets to be tapped, the public has a relatively short-term memory, and there’s always a chance that some major headway was made during the last few years of development. So we’ve seen a resurgence of mobility talk from the industry, especially as it relates to all-electric vehicles. Case in point is the Audi Urbansphere — an autonomous concept vehicle designed for “Chinese megacities” but allegedly perfect for a metropolitan area near you.
Ford Motor Co. has shared its intent to launch seven fully electric vehicles in Europe, including a battery-electric variant of the Puma subcompact crossover, its best-selling (and looking) passenger car for the market. Though the first EV in its new product offensive will be a midsize crossover helping Blue Oval deliver on a previous promise to manufacture electric vehicles in Cologne, Germany.
The unit is said to capitalize on Ford’s partnership with Volkswagen Group by leaning on the latter entity’s MEB platform that already underpins VW’s ID products and Audi’s e-tron vehicles. Driving range is estimated at 311 miles per charge, with the company anticipating a formal debut later this year.
A little over a decade ago, it seemed like everyone I knew was abandoning cable packages for online streaming services. They were cheaper, on-demand, and offered more choices with fewer advertisements. But as the years progressed, companies stopped selling their media to a handful of online video platforms and started building their own. Programming became more transient and isolated, forcing consumers to buy into additional subscription services. We’ve since hit a point where the overall consumer experience has diminished and grown more expensive, despite the steady influx of competition.
While automakers have been dabbling with subscription services of their own, their earliest attempts turned out to be such overwhelmingly bad deals that the public refused to play along. But they’re not giving up that easily. Industry players have been trying to figure out ways to charge customers indefinitely for years and are starting to settle upon subscription packages that can unlock hardware that’s already been installed into the vehicle or add software that can be downloaded via over-the-air (OTA) updates. Love or hate it, vehicular connectivity has opened up the door for new sources of revenue and businesses everywhere are eager to take advantage — with most companies projecting exceptionally healthy profits for the years ahead.
On Tuesday, Stellantis announced a plan to cultivate €20 billion ($23 billion USD) per year by 2030 via “software-enabled product offerings and subscriptions.” However, the automaker will first need to increase the number of connected vehicles it has sold from 12 million (today) to 34 million by the specified date.
This is something we’ve seen most major manufacturers explore, with some brands firmly committing themselves to monetizing vehicular connectivity through over-the-air (OTA) updates, data mining, and subscription services. Though much of this looks decidedly unappetizing, often representing a clever way for companies to repeatedly charge customers for equipment that’s already been installed.
Nissan Motor Co. has confirmed plans to invest 2 trillion yen ($17.65 billion USD) over the next five years to accelerate its electric vehicle development program. Like most major manufacturers, the automaker wants to launch a bevy of electrified products over the next decade and derive a relevant portion of its income from EVs.
As explained by CEO Makoto Uchida on Monday as part of the “Nissan Ambition 2030,” the plan is to launch 23 new vehicles with some amount of electrification while it attempts to implement solid-state batteries into three concept vehicles that supposedly foreshadow future lineups. These include the battery-electric “Surf-Out” lifestyle pickup, “Max-Out” sports convertible, “Chill-Out” regular car, and “Hang-Out” adventure crossover. Though all three appear to be little more than drafts of vehicles Nissan would eventually like to build, boasting technologies that we’re not sure are feasible. For example, the Hang-Out is featured with a polygonal purple awning that oozes impossibly out of the vehicle’s roof. It lacks realism, which ended up being a central theme of the Nissan Ambition 2030 presentation that was broadcast on Monday.
Tesla Inc. pulled its Full Self Driving (FSD) beta off the table over the weekend, with CEO Elon Musk stating that testers had been “seeing some issues with [version] 10.3.”
To remedy the issue, the company has reverted back to FSD 10.2 temporarily. Musk made the announcement over social media on Sunday morning. The following day, he had already promised that version 10.3.1 would be coming out to address problems encountered during the exceptionally short public testing phase.
“Please note, this is to be expected with beta software,” the CEO noted. “It is impossible to test all hardware configs in all conditions with internal QA, hence public beta.”
Earlier this week, Elon Musk announced that Tesla would begin offering the Full Self-Driving (FSD) Beta to testers that had achieved sufficiently high marks in its new “safety score.” While company has repeatedly promised to launch FSD in earnest, which costs $10,000 to purchase or $199 a month to rent (depending on which version of Autopilot you’re using), the system has been habitually delayed from getting a widespread release. This has upset more than a few customers operating under the assumption that having bought into the service actually meant something.
That said, the rollout has technically begun and continues encompassing more users. But regulators are annoyed that the company is now testing FSD’s functionality on thousands of paying customers and the terms in which Tesla is offering FSD has changed in a manner that makes your author extremely uncomfortable. The automaker originally intended to provide the system via a simple over-the-air (OTA) update as availability expanded. However Tesla now has a button allowing drivers to request FSD by opening them up to a period of scrutiny where their driving is digitally judged. Despite your having already shelled out cash for it, access to the beta is determined by the manufacturer’s safety score.
There’s a small camera just above the rear-view mirrors installed in newer Tesla models. If you haven’t noticed it before, it wasn’t of any particular relevance. But it certainly is now.
Tesla has decided to activate driver monitoring protocols in an effort to avoid liabilities whenever Autopilot fails and motorists unexpectedly find themselves merging off a bridge. After rummaging through the wreckage and collecting errant body parts, investigators can use the vehicle’s camera data to see what was happening moments before the car hurled itself into the ravine. If it turns out that the driver was totally alert and did their utmost to wrangle the vehicle as it went haywire, a colossal payout for the surviving family is assured. But if that camera catches them slipping for a microsecond, the manufacturer has all it needs to shift the blame onto the deceased driver.
A recent report from The Intercept has confirmed some of our biggest fears about connected vehicles. Apparently, U.S. Customs And Border Protection (CBP) has struck a deal with Swedish mobile forensics and data extraction firm MSAB for hardware that allows the government to not only siphon up vehicle data but also use it as a backdoor to access the information on your phone.
While this shouldn’t be all that surprising in an America that’s seen the Patriot Act pave the way for all sorts of government spying, the arrangement represents another item in a toolbox that’s frequently used against regular citizens. CBP is alleged to have spent $456,073 on a series of vehicle forensic kits manufactured inside the United States by Berla. Internal documents suggest that the system was unique and of great interest to the U.S. government, with a multitude of potential applications pertaining to automotive data. But what surprised us was just how much information carmakers thought their products needed to keep tabs on and how that plays into this.
On Tuesday, the largest automotive lobbying group released a handful of safety guidelines related to driver monitoring for vehicles equipped with driver-assistance features. It’s pageantry designed to convince you and the rest of the world to embrace technologies that have already led to unsettling privacy violations. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation making recommendations for the industry is farcical because the AAI already represents just about every major player on the field, suppliers included. The only real outsider is Tesla, which the organization decided would make an excellent scapegoat for the broader tech agenda.
But there’s still merit to the discussion, especially if the only proposed solution is to let the industry watch us inside our cars 24/7.
On Wednesday, Ford Motor Co. announced its upcoming hands-free driver-assist system intended to rival Tesla’s Autopilot or General Motors SuperCruise. The service, which the manufacturer has renamed BlueCruise, will be available on top trimmed “Mustang” Mach-E crossovers and F-150 pickup trucks via over-the-air-updates in the third quarter of 2021.
It will not be free, however.
Even though Ford has promised highly competitive pricing, customers will need to have purchased vehicles equipped with the necessary hardware (including driver monitoring cameras) before they’ll be eligible to spend the additional $600 Ford is asking for the privilege of using BlueCruise for three years. While more affordable than the competition, it still seems a lot to spend on a vehicle so you can pretend it’s self-driving – especially since the company failed to make it sound like it would be any more advanced than what’s being offered on Tesla and Cadillac vehicles that similarly cannot drive themselves.
Goldman Sachs is creating a joint venture that will help it capitalize on automotive technology firms while they’re consistently being overvalued on the New York Stock Exchange. Automotive startups have become a hot item, so long as they’re trading on the assumed merits of new technologies, and there’s no shortage of new companies being propped up by established players. The last few years have been a merry-go-round of establishment automakers and financial intuitions investing in startups on the off chance they might have something useful.
Meanwhile, burgeoning electric vehicle companies are using special purpose acquisition firms (aka blank-check companies) to maximize their advantage. Even though some have argued this is being done unfairly, there’s not much accountability in general. The iron could not be more primed for striking if you happen to be one of America’s largest banks.
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- Lorenzo All the efforts made over decades to reduce/eliminate NVH in ICE cars, and now they're putting noise and vibration into electric cars. It reminds me of efforts to make veggie burgers taste like meat. Vegetarians don't want the taste of meat, and meat eaters will want meat, not veggie burgers.
- Jalop1991 A true golf cart.Sure, it's a penalty box inside. But you're not in it for more than a few minutes at a time during commutes and in between charging stops.Ergo, it's the perfect...golf cart.
- Zipper69 I'm sure it will sell just fine at all trim levels.I'd only note that IMHO the dashboard is a bit of a busy mess.
- MaintenanceCosts Why do you have to accept two fewer cylinders in your gas engine to get an electric motor? (This question also applies to the CX-90.)
- Zipper69 Do they have unique technology that might interest another manufacturer?